Nonfiction Corner: One Day a Dot & Fossil Hunter

One Day a Dot: The Story of You, The Universe, and Everything (First Second)
Written by Ian Lendler
Illustrated by Shelli Paroline & Braden Lamb

For ages: 4-8
Trying to communicate the vast scope of the universe and the evolution of life on Earth are incredibly unwieldy topics to teach young children. However, One Day a Dot has managed to present accurate scientific information in a highly digestible manner for our kids. The text refers to early objects in the universe and the first primitive life forms as dots. Eventually, these dots become conscious, and little bits of life thrive on sunlight. Over time the dots stop being dots and take on more complex structures, becoming bacteria, fish, dinosaurs, mammals, and human beings. 

These shapes “play games,” with the earliest forms playing “Catch the Light” to survive. When predators appear on the scene, the game becomes “Eat or Be Eaten.” The creatures that leave the water for the land are trying to win the game by leaving the board. But as we know, the game follows them to the surface. It can be a bit over-simplistic when one life form evolves into another, presenting a hierarchical view of biology. Interdependence among life forms doesn’t get any space on these pages. The motif of dots threaded throughout the book is a fantastic metaphor for linking these hefty concepts.

All of this is made possible through the fantastic illustration of Shelli Paroline & Braden Lamb, who manage to present simple & unique models of the concepts. Children can quickly identify what they are looking at and see the continuity from one era to the next. I would expect lots of questions from little ones after reading because it inevitably leaves significant gaps. Kids might not notice, but your more observant ones will and could want further clarity on what they have learned. One of the best early reader books about the birth of the universe & evolution I’ve seen in a long time. 

Fossil Hunter: How Mary Anning Changed the Science of Prehistoric Life (Clarion Books)
Written by Mary Blackford

For ages: 10-12
For older readers, we have the story of Mary Anning, a woman who started fossil hunting when she was a child along the southern coast of England. She and her brother found the first intact fossil of an ichthyosaur, a fish-like animal, and that started a frenzy of buying & selling fossils in the country. We learn that Mary was poor and didn’t attend school very long. Still, despite that, she was constantly curious about these ancient creatures’ remains. Motivated by her interest and money that would improve her family’s life, Mary attempted some very dangerous digs and managed not to get hurt by pure luck. 

The book also addresses how Mary’s gender caused her to remain nearly unrecognized during her life. In Victorian England, what she did was seen as improper, and men dominated the sciences. Some of these scientists buried her name in place of their own, while others tried but often failed to get the scientific community to recognize Anning’s achievements. Ironically, in the present day, as Anning’s contributions to paleontology have been revealed, the very men who ignored & hid her name are becoming forgotten. An apt punishment for such sexist behavior.

The book is full of photographs of fossils, illustrations sketched by Mary and others at the time, and drawings of what these ancient animals might have looked like. These additional artifacts help add reality to the story, giving young readers something to help them understand this isn’t just a narrative but the true story of one person’s life. The book balances the science and the humanity of this person who never really lived to see the impact her discoveries would have on the world.

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